Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Glacier Gorge

Got up at 6:30 and decided to take Vicki back up to the Bear Lake area to go to Alberta Falls and maybe Mill's lake up in Glacier Gorge. So we again had a quick light breakfast and headed to the Bear Lake parking lot (we were early enough for a parking spot today).  Made PBJ's, packed some apples and nuts and fruit and hit the trail for Alberta Falls.  I was anxious to try to capture it with a neutral density filter so I could get that "motion" feel.

This was my third hike to Alberta/Mills since 2005, and I know by now there is a bit of a cruel joke the trail plays on people.   Oh yeah, when you first hit that trail and you start off going down hill, it's easy. Kids are running past you.  And you pass the connection to the trail to the Glacier Gorge trailhead parking lot on the way down ... I'm pretty sure it's all uphill from that parking lot to that point.  But the deal is, especially if you do the full hike to Mills Lake, you're 6 miles into about a 7 mile round trip hike when you get to that last stretch to the Bear Lake lot, and it's all up hill.  At about 9,500 feet.  I made a mental note of this as we coasted down the hill on foot.  If the Glacier Gorge parking lot hadn't been full it might have been better planning to start there, but it only holds about 15 or 20 cars.

We got to the first cascade I had mistaken for Alberta Falls almost 10 years ago, and continued up to Alberta Falls itself.  There were fly fishermen there fishing below the falls, and the place was pretty crowded especially for so early in the morning, I thought.  We'd seen a lot of fly fishers this trip.  I usually see a few in Moraine Park, but apparently we were there during a good fly fishing period.  I found a rock to set up my camera for the time exposure it would take to get the shot I wanted and cropped areas where lots of people were.  I ended up with a pretty good shot -- but didn't realize until later that the lens filter itself was actually catching some sun and I had some lens flare.  I was able to crop the obvious bits of that out, but it did leave a kind of streaked, misty optical effect running from the upper left to lower right that oddly makes the photo look almost 3-D, especially with the tree in the foreground.  I still think it's my favorite shot from the whole trip.

We walked up the granite to the top of the falls, which I think is impressive the way it comes around a corner through such a small chute before taking the first big drop - definitely worth seeing.  I asked Vicki if she was up for the rest of the hike to Mills Lake.  The altitude and the elevation gain on the trail were pretty taxing on her. It's "only" another 2.3 miles.  But she hasn't been riding her bicycle to work all summer ... being retired and all.  Actually I was doing better than my previous two hikes up here and I'll chalk it up to my commutes. They are doing some good.

She said she'd do it, so we got started.  However, you're off the trail up here at the top of the falls.  But I knew if we just walked west through the forest a little ways we'd have to hit the trail, and that's what we did.  Vicki was a little concerned about getting lost, but really, it couldn't be more than 50 or 60 yards to the trail, and there was no way to miss it going that direction.  We found it, and kept going up.

There are several places where the trail crosses the creek coming down from Mills Lake (through Alberta Falls, and beyond) and little rough-hewn foot bridges across with nice views of it cascading down the mountain through the forest.

To me it seemed like the hike went more quickly than in years past, as if someone had cut some switchbacks out, because in no time, to me anyway, we were at a point where we leveled out and were headed directly toward the end of Glacier Gorge where some of my favorite dead trees still stand.  It's also in the sun, though, and protected by high canyon walls so there's not much of a breeze in there.  Warm.

It was a rough hike for Vicki ... I offered to just quit and go back, but I did tell her that she'd think it was worth it when we got there ... though I wasn't so sure she'd think so from the current look on her face.  But she trooped on.

When you get there, it just suddenly sort of "appears".  After you climb across some large gentle domes of granite, you're looking up Mills Lake the long way and into Glacier Gorge, with Longs Peak about halfway up it on the left, and Chief's Head in the back.  You can clearly see The Trough and Keyboard of the Winds.  At just under 10,000 feet, you're below the tree line by a thousand or so feet so pine and fir come down to the lake shore.  There were quite a few people there.  Lots of families.  We picked a spot under a tree on one of the granite jetties to stop and have lunch on under a tree, and were set upon by chipmunks who were obviously used to being fed by people.  They weren't shy.  One climbed right up Vicki's back trying to get to her sandwich before deciding maybe that wasn't such a good idea and leaping off and dashing back to the safety of a crevice in the rock.
There were a few fish jumping in the lake, and some kids testing how much cold water they could stand -- a young brother and sister teasing each other.  It was around 11:00, 11:30 so several people were having lunch right along with us.  We exchanged picture-taking duties with a couple of people and continued to take in the view and rest.  Vicki did say it was worth the trip.  It is.  It's a great spot in the park.

On our way out we ran across a female elk foraging in the forest just off the trail.   There were also a lot more people heading up the trail.  Alberta Falls was really crowded when we got back down to it, and then of course we hit the "cruel joke" at the end of the trail.  By the time we got back to the car I figured we'd done a 7 mile round trip with some moderate elevation gain in there.

I'd left the solar shower out on the picnic table at the camp ground.  There have never been shower facilities in the park, and you're not allowed to do it at your campsite -- but in 2012 the park installed an outdoor solar shower facility in Moraine Park on Loop A where you can use your own.  There are two stalls. (They're building another two stall facility this summer). It's open air, so you're sort of one with nature, but nobody can see anything but your feet.  The water was hot, and it felt good to get completely clean.  I typically use Coleman body wipes and then wash my hair in cold water in the bathroom for a couple of days between showers.   This was muuuuch nicer.  We had some time so we headed into to Estes Park, found the Estes Park bewery and had a beer and some wings, then looked in a few shops.  Vicki bought a mixed bag of old time candies, and I bought a big laminated trail map of the park. To this point I couldn't find the Hubbard Scientific relief map I was looking for.  Or that Geo-Situ pin....

At 6:30 we headed over to Bond Park to see Brad Fitch (Cowboy Brad ... DOT COM) doing what turned out to be his final Bond Park show of the 2014 season.  Went to say "hi" to him and he said, "I know you".  We had a quick bro-hug, I introduced him to Vicki and let him go about his business and before long he was taking requests and singing songs.  Most of the songs requested were his own songs, which was kinda cool (I'm sure he usually gets a lot more John Denver requests -- the man is a ringer for him and does annual benefit concerts of John Denver music).

I once told Brad he's the kind of legend that matters.  Not that he thinks he is one in any way.  He's really an unassuming guy who does a lot for the community he lives in, not just the benefits but the free, family-friendly concerts that really add to the spirit of Estes Park, plus in recent years he's gotten on as a ranger in RMNP, which is a fitting honor and I'm sure he loves it.  I know I would.  The community would be diminished without him.

Picked up his latest CD "Rocky", which is officially sanctioned RMNP Centenial Merchandise. Really enjoyed it, too.

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